With just a few weeks until the start of the 2018-19 season, the Petal Lady Panthers’ soccer team had an issue. They didn’t have a coach anymore. For whatever reason, their coach left.
At that point, there was only one option. John Dicks, head coach of the Petal boy’s team, took over duties of coaching both teams. Now, the same person coaching both the girls and boys’ teams isn’t uncommon in Mississippi high school soccer. There are multiple cases of it, including Sumrall’s Todd Siders. However, it is rare to see it at such a high level of classification, as Petal competes in the highest class, 6A.
“I’ve known a lot of these girls since they’ve been in seventh grade, and they’ve known me, so it was an easy option for me to take over,” Dicks said. “They felt like, ‘we need somebody who’s going to believe in us and believe in building a program for us.’”
Dicks has been instrumental in building up Petal’s program, and it hasn’t just been for the boy’s team. While he wasn’t a hands-on coach for the Lady Panthers, he stayed involved until he ultimately took over right before the season.
With Dicks coaching, the Lady Panthers (3-1) have already exceeded last season’s win total, which was only two, and all it took was a few small adjustments.
“Really, all we did was change our formation, moved a few people around to some positions they were a little bit better at, and we’ve only lost one game,” Dicks said. The Lady Panthers have a handful for players who can find the back of the net. In fact, seven different players have recorded a goal, and six have at least two goals so far through four games.
Junior Abby Smallwood, one of the team’s captains, leads the squad with six goals, and she’s tallied one hat trick. Another team captain, junior Carley White, has five goals, and sophomore Anna Grace Newsome, seventh-grader Logan Taylor and freshman captain Cory Reid Powell all have two goals each. Freshman Abby Reagan scored three goals in last week’s win over Forrest County AHS to give her three this season, and sophomore Kinsey Bellinger has a goal.
A strength for the Lady Panthers is how they possess the ball and complete passes. With all of the weapons on the attack, it makes it tough for opponents to stop Petal. Sophomore Kelsall Green hasn’t been beaten on defense either, Dicks added.
“The team is very young,” Dicks said. “There are no seniors out (on the field), so the future is bright for this team.”
On the boy’s side, the Panthers aren’t young at all. They have nine seniors on the roster and six start. All six are being recruited to play at the next level, according to Dicks.
The Petal boys have posted a quick 4-0 start to the season with wins over Quitman, West Jones, Warren Central and Forrest County AHS, and senior Brandon Marquez already has 12 of the team’s 22 goals through those games. In the 15-0 win over Quitman, he netted nine goals, and he scored one in each of the other three games, including the game-winner against FCAHS.
“(Marquez) is amazing,” Dicks said. “We’ve moved him from that center-mid position to up top where we can use his speed, size and strength that he has.
Petal is already one win away from matching last season’s total wins of five, and a productive offseason may be the result of it. Usually, the team will take some time off after the season, but Dicks says everybody saw the potential, so they hit the weight room and practice field harder.
“They’ve bought into the program, they believe in each other and that’s been the biggest thing this year,” Dicks said.
Both squads are back in action next Tuesday against Neshoba Central. The Lady Panthers take the pitch at 5:30 and the boys play at 7 p.m.